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The diminutive size and cramped cockpit of the T-260 makes photography quite a challenge

The Tecnam T-2006A is  built by Costruzioni Aeronautiche Tecnam, based in Capua, Italy

The T-260s were originally delivered in an overall grey colour scheme

The black panels were added later to enhance visibility in the air

In conjunction with the introduction of the T-260B, a new training programme was introduced in 2006, allowing the future pilots of the AMI and the other state corps who rely on 70° Stormo for their basic flight training, to attain a more advanced standard in basic flight aspects. Besides acquiring more complete practical and theoretical skills in IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) navigation than the VFR (Visual flight Rules) style of operations of the past, the new programme also provides low-level navigation and night flying. Students arrive at Latina in batches of around 50 at a time, and the management of the flying hours with the new system avoids congestion of training missions and allows the instructors to manage them in a way that is more suited to the requirements of the students. Aside the training of all prospective AMI pilots, 207° Gruppo also trains pilots for other government institutions such as the Army and Guardia di Finanza, and occasionally foreign students. Although no foreign students are currently involved in training at Latina, an example of the co-operation with overseas nations was the training of Kuwaiti pilots in 2016.

We would like to thank the following people for their assistance in making this article

Col. Luca Vitali (Commander, 70 Wing) 

Lt. Paolo Pezone (PI, 70 Wing)

Lt. Damiano 'Bruno 24'

The pilots of 'Gold Flight'

Francesca Maggi (British FCO, Defence Attaché, Rome)

T-260B ready to start engines on the Latina flightline

Phase 3 is where the students are ‘streamed’ into their future roles; fast-jets, rotary-wing, or multi-engine fixed-wing. The element of this phase that is conducted at Latina is known as ‘3A’, and involves personnel for future multi-crew aircraft. This is where the students are introduced to the Tecnam T-2600A aircraft, three of which are in service with 70° Stormo and form part of the AMI’s new Integrated Training System (ITS). The ITS includes the three aircraft, a flight simulator, a training package for pilots and technicians, and maintenance assistance for a contract period of three years and 3,600 flight hours. After completion of Phase 3A, the students’ then move on to Pratica di Mare for advanced training on the Piaggio P.180A with the CAE Multi-Crew unit.

The Aermacchi T-260B is a two-seat primary trainer with full aerobatic capability and is a very effective aircraft for facilitating the subsequent conversion of students onto ‘fast-jet' trainers such as the AMI’s Aermacchi T-339s. The T-260B has a side-by-side seating arrangement for instructor and student, both of which are fitted with flight controls, with a modern avionics system. The radio navigation equipment includes VOR/ILS, ADF, DME, GPS, ADI and HSI, with the instrument panel laid in the classic “T” for both pilot positions, expanding the possibilities for IFR navigation training, and enabling full instrument approaches and landings, improved flight safety and training efficiency during both navigation training and aerobatic manoeuvres. Deliveries of the batch of 30 T-260B aircraft ordered were completed in July 2006, when the AMI accepted delivery of the last two aircraft. The T-260B is powered by a single Avco-Lycoming AEIO-540 D4A5 engine, which produces 260 Horsepower. This gives the T-260B a maximum speed of 236 knots, a climb rate of 1800ft/min and a surface ceiling of 20,000ft (6,100 metres). When fitted with two external fuel tanks it is capable of a maximum range in excess of 1100 nautical miles. 

Located some 60km south of the capital Roma, 70° Stormo at Latina Air Base plays a key role in the training of Italian pilots destined for not only the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI-Italian Air Force), but also for a number of other Italian military and para-military organisations. Over the last few years, 70° Stormo has undertaken a marked modernisation process, and Jetwash Aviation Photos was given the opportunity to embed itself with the Wing to fly a mission with the Aermacchi T-260 trainer and report on the unit's current aircraft and its undertakings.

Part of the Latina flightline seen from the airfield's Control Tower

70º Stormo

'Scuola Volo Basico'

Aeronautica Militare Italiana

One of the Wing's T-260Bs seen undergoing maintenance with the GEA

With his wingman already lined up on the runway, the pilot of #MM55116 taxi's out

There are seven training areas within close vicinity to Latina

They are all 'wedged' between the mountains and coastline, and are closed to all other traffic

#70-34 is signalled clear to taxi by the groundcrew

At the end of Phase 1, pilots are then sent to their respective national and international flying schools to complete the second phase of their training (BPM-Phase 2).  There have been efforts within NATO over a number of years now to standardize and increase the co-operation in flying training amongst member nations, which has for example seen Italy and Greece exchanges whereby AMI students have gone to Kalamata Air Base to fly the Beechcraft T-6A Texan with 120 Air Training Wing, and Hellenic Air Force pilots conducting part of their training at Lecce with 61° Stormo. In addition to the exchange with Greece, there has been a long-standing NATO arrangement with the United States, which sees some AMI students go to Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, as part of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Programme (ENJJPT) with the 80th Flying Training Wing. There is also an exchange with instructors from Latina and the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Flight School (Elementaire Militaire Vlieger Opleiding/EMVO) at Woensdrecht, the co-operation with the RNLAF having already seen a number of Dutch IPs train on the new T-346A at Lecce.

Strapped in and ready to go. The T-260's cockpit is very compact and leaves little room to wield a camera!

In one form or another, the T-260 has been the AMI's Primary Trainer for some 40+ years

It is envisaged that using the P-2006T for training will make considerable cost savings for the AMI, having previously used aircraft such as the Piaggio P.180 Avanti. Known as the T-2006A by the AMI, the four-seat, twin-engine aircraft has a high-wing configuration that provides good stability, excellent visibility and easy access. Thanks to the extensive use of aluminium in the construction of the aircraft, the T-2006 is very robust despite its low weight, also giving it an excellent power-to-weight ratio. The wing profile provides it with low aerodynamic resistance, good altitude performance and a stall speed of less than 48KIAS (Knots indicated air speed). The two 100hp BRP-Rotax 912 engines result in reduced running costs and lower aerodynamic load on the wings, resulting in greater overall airworthiness of the aircraft. Other than minor technical issues, all aircraft maintenance on the T-2600 is carried out by Tecnam.

The Wing’s training syllabus is conducted entirely in English, with a majority of the students having never piloted an aircraft in their lives before coming to Latina. Broken down into three Phases, the course is as follows;
Phase 1 commences with a theoretical ‘Ground School’ and a practical ‘Flying Training’ element. The ‘Ground School’ element is completed in about three weeks, with the students learning the basic knowledge of the aircraft, meteorology, air traffic control procedures, aviation medicine, radio phraseology, and basic flight procedures. The Flying Training element is divided into three separate modules, consisting of around 15 flights with an Instructor Pilot (IP) and ending with the student’s first solo flight if they achieve the required standard. Module 1 is dedicated to aircraft familiarisation, flight procedures and aircraft controls, an introduction to aerobatics, and familiarisation with flying airfield circuit patterns. Module 2 is dedicated to basic training and the capacity to perform more ‘enthusiastic’ aerobatic manoeuvres, aircraft stalls, and airfield circuit flying. Module 3 is used to consolidate the lessons already learned, ending with the student’s first solo flight, which involves safely conducting a basic training mission from take-off through to landing. At the end of Phase 1, students receive their 'Brevetto di Pilota d’Aeroplano' (BPA – Aircraft Pilots Licence), which is equivalent to a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL).

During my visit to 70° Stormo I had the pleasure of taking part in an afternoon mission from Latina with the T-260B. Following a pre-flight briefing and agreeing the photographic opportunities I wanted to capture, we suited-up and headed out for the flightline to board our aircraft. We would be flying in #MM55116/70-23, callsign 'Bruno 24'. All of the instructors with 207° Gruppo use the 'Bruno' callsign, each number being unique to an individual IP. We would be flying as a single-ship, but in conjunction with 'Gold Flight', a 2-ship formation. Whilst the pilot conducted his pre-flight checks I climbed into the aircraft's cockpit and strapped in. Within a few minutes we had started engines and were ready to taxi out to Runway 12.  

207° Gruppo is the unit which conducts the students' flying training at Latina, and is sub-divided into four Squadriglie. It provides the entire training syllabus for the students, with the Instructor Pilots (IPs) drawn from a variety of operational units within the AMI. The IPs also conduct a large part of the classroom training in collaboration with the ground-based lecturers. The Gruppo has flown the Aermacchi SF.260 since 1976, firstly with the SF.260AM version (known as the T-260A) and subsequently with the current SF.260EA (T-260B), which entered service in August 2005. The last of the 45 A-models was retired in 2009, having flown some 235,000 flight hours in total, with more than 4,500 students having completed their basic flight training on the type. 

Three Tecnam T-2600As were delivered to 70° Stormo in late 2016

Phase 2 of the flying training programme sees the students leave Latina go to Lecce, Kalamata or the United States for basic jet training. Phase 2 training varies slightly in terms of flight hours subject to the student’s posting, but generally between 100-120 hours are involved, covering visual and instrument flying, navigation, basic and tactical formation work and low-level flying. Upon completion the student pilots are awarded the coveted Brevetto di Pilota Militare (BPM – Military Pilots Licence).

#MM55115 departs Latina for a morning mission on 9th May 2017

Just nudging 2000 feet at 150 knots over the Tyrrhenian coastline

The normal cruise speed for the T-260B is around 140 knots

#MM55116 head's for the threshold of Runway 30, with the airfield control tower in the background

The GEA (Gruppo Efficienza Aeromobili — Aircraft Serviceability Squadron) was formed on 1st February 2003. The GEA assumes total responsibility for the maintenance operations of the T-260B fleet, the maintenance programme being built around the Ispezione Periodica (periodic inspection) for the airframe and engine every 100 flying hours; and the Revisione Generale (general overhaul), which is conducted every 3000 flying hours or 10 years (whichever comes first) by Alenia-Aermacchi.

'Gold Flight' in close formation

Clouds roll in over the distant mountains with 'Gold Formation' at the holding point on Runway 12

Late afternoon on the Latina flightline, with the foothills of the Appenine mountain range in the background

Flightline action as we wait to depart for an afternoon mission on 9th May

Over the airfield about to make a turn for final approach

The Aermacchi T-339A is used for Phase 2 of the student training programme

The aircraft provides the fast-jet training prior to students being 'streamed' into their future roles

In comparison to the now withdrawn T-260A version, the new maintenance programme has resulted in a greater availability of aircraft for the training programme through the reduced aircraft down time. The GEA also conducts in-house training of officers, engineers, and technical personnel through the Nucleo Addestramento, and contributes to the teaching of technical material to the student pilots during their training for the Breveto di Pilota.

One of the three T-2600As seen at Latina on 9th May 2017

Final approach on Runway 30

In 2016, the Air Force acquired three Tecnam P-2006T aircraft on a three-year lease agreement, which incorporates 1200 flight hours, an in-house simulator and all aircraft maintenance. The three aircraft entered service with 70° Stormo in July 2016 and are used for multi-engine training.